Sam Wanja is an average 12-year-old boy who loves football, hanging out with his peers and watching cartoons.
However, according to his mother, Elisa Muganzi, that is just one side of the story - his son has a competitive fixation.
“Sam always wants to be the first to finish his home work, get done with his breakfast before any one and always score the highest number of goals in the school football team,” Muganzi says.
Being competitive isn’t a bad if it is healthy, but when a competitive child hurts others in his pursuits, it can lead to negative consequences.
“His two younger brothers and friends at school resent him for always boasting about how he is the best in everything. Everybody now sees him as a show off,” Muganzi says.
Now Muganzi does not know what to do for Wanja and while she has tried counseling, it is not yielding any results. Patty Wipfler, founder of Hand to Hand, an organization that helps parents nurture relationships with their children, says society plays a big role in propping up a competitive culture.
Wipfler explains that there’s a constant need to “be the best”. Children are taught that to achieve what they want in life, they must strive to be the first or best in what they do.
Dr Stacie Bunning, a psychologist agrees.
“Our society is extremely achievement focused and many parents pressure their children at early ages to win to be the best at all costs.”
How to tell unhealthy behavior
A super competitive child, according to Dr Paul Nyende, usually demonstrates a high level of hunger to be the best in everything from being the first to brush in the morning to having an unsatisfiable hunger to succeed outside home amongst his or her peers in sports. Thus knowing the source of the child’s super competitiveness is not the issue but how to help him relax.
“You do not really need to know what makes your child so competitive. You might have a guess but no analysis of the root of the problem is necessary,” Wipfler writes.
Wipfler proposes two helpful tools: play listening and stay listening. With the play listening tool, a parent initiates a game in which the super competitive child is allowed to win some times while the parent evokes laughter and also listens to support the child’s feelings when he or she is disappointed about losing a game.
Dr Nyende agrees, saying that showing affection helps. But he cautions that parents must also be firm – there is need to consistently set down rules and responsibilities which the child must follow.